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On 4 October, security sources in Burkina Faso claimed that Islamist terrorist groups attacked a gold mine in the northern province of Soum, killing 20 people. It is believed that Islamist terrorist organizations are to blame, as they have increased their insurgent activities in recent years, but it is yet unknown which group is to blame. Al Jazeera reports that Al-Qaeda, Islamic State of Iraq, and ISIS all have affiliated groups in the region. The Guardian reports that over 300,000 people have fled their homes to move to the south of the country, due to both terrorism and ethnic violence, which have been growing since 2014.
One security official said that “armed individuals attacked the gold mining site at Dolmane … leaving around 20 dead, mainly gold miners”. The Guardian describes the operations of the terrorists as perpetrating “attacks on emblems of the state, hit-and-run raids on remote villages and brutal interpretation of Islamic law”. This latest attack on the gold mine should be viewed as an attack on an area of national importance, as the goal would have been not only terror but also to damage the local economy, with the overall aim of further radicalization.
The various terror organizations in the region are trying to create a rift throughout not just Burkina Faso but much of West Africa, to split countries along ethnic lines whilst trying to radicalize Muslim civilians in the process. This is often why they claim to conduct attacks in retaliation for extrajudicial killings of Muslim sections of the population. With its hard-line, ineffective approach, the Burkinabè government is inadvertently aiding the terrorist cause and should be focussing not only on protecting civilians but regaining trust through taking responsibility for its actions. Simultaneously, more funding has to be given to the G5 Sahel taskforce, which was established by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, countries that are all experiencing terrorist violence but that do not have enough funding for troops to adequately prevent its spread.
In 2015, following the dissolution of the Regiment of Presidential Security (RPS) after a failed military coup against the new transitional government, terrorism started in Burkina Faso. The 1300 people of this regiment formed roughly 10% of the Burkinabè army and had received training from French and U.S. forces in counterterrorism. With the RPS gone and a government unwilling to negotiate with terrorists, violence began in Northern provinces, with 2018 the most violent year so far, having 465 attacks. This led in December 2018 to the declaration of a state of emergency in northern provinces, affording special powers to the government, including replacing civilian with military courts. The crackdown on terrorism has led to multiple claims of human rights abuses including “summary executions” of Fulani civilians coming from the Burkinabè Movement for Human and Peoples’ Rights. 585 people have lost their lives to terrorism since 2015, whilst a Human Rights Watch report from 2018 has detailed multiple instances of extrajudicial killings and mass detentions of civilians by the government.
Finding solutions is not easy for Burkina Faso right now, with not just terrorism but poverty crippling the country’s development, and the lack of funds is in large part responsible for the country’s inability to fight terrorism. However, the government has to realize that its actions are not only providing fuel for the terrorist networks to grow but also have often been just as heinous as the actions of terrorist groups. The government has to provide support to at-risk or damaged communities through aid, transparent justice and an end to extrajudicial activities. The international community must supply aid, assistance or training as required by Burkina Faso and its neighbours so that they can more effectively fight terrorism.